Curious on… Brett Bakewell-White

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One of the sweetest 36-footers right now is the Bakewell-White 36 General Lee sailing in Australia. And I guess wild downwind videos in combination with a controversial paint job is what it takes to get noticed on Sailing Anarchy and Blur.

I had a cup of coffee at RNZYS with designer Brett Bakewell-White. Since he is also Design and Technical Director of Team Korea, there’s a Swedish connection since both Magnus Holmberg and Sail Racing is associated with the Korean team.

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As many NZ yacht designers Brett doesn’t have a formal training. At least not in yacht design. Brett trained to be an architect and got into the sailing squad for Team New Zeelands 12 metre in Freemantle 1987. Stopped by an injury, Brett ended up helping Laurie Davidson in the design team. Other members were Bruce Farr and Ron Holland. Pretty good company of you’re interested in yacht design?

Brett ended up helping Davidson after the cup. First just a few hours here and there, but later on running the Auckland office before starting his own design company in 1994.

He thought he would become a famous yacht designer straight away, but it took almost 15 years to achieve that goal.

When asked about what’s most important in yacht design, Brett cites his design process. Not that it’s very unique, but it’s something he brought with him from being an architect. It’s so important to start with the functions, activities and people that the space is built for. It’s easy as a yacht designer to end up with a recipe or formula that apply to most demands. Brett tries to spend time figuring out how the owners will use their boat, from stepping aboard the boat in the morning to getting home in the evening. That’s why boats turn out so different.

Also, there’s a benefit of doing lot’s of things to not get stuck in your thinking. Smaller racer/cruisers, maxis, power race boats and 300′ super yachts.

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Back to the quick 36-footers in Perth, Western Australia. It actually started out with Alfresco, being the third design for the same owner. Then the sailmakers on the boat, Evolution Sails, decided they wanted one to, and General Lee is the result. Maybe a bit “over the top” with grinder and all imaginable offshore gear, the boat is now for sale as they want to upgrade to a bigger version – that will be cool!

Western Australia seems to be a stronghold for Bakewell-White with almost 40 boats in the region.

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Built and launched in New Zealand earlier this year, Alfresco resides in Perth and is the third Bakewell-White designed yacht owned by Frank Saraceni. Built in carbon by Davie Norris Boatbuilders in Christchurch, and rigged by NZ Rigging this is a very New Zealand project put together by Rodney Keenan of Evolution Sails and then exported to Western Australia.

The design philosophy was very much one of, let’s build a fast offshore capable 36ft yacht and then we will get an IRC rating and see how we go. Fast and fun was the priority for the corporate twilight sailing that the boat is largely used for on the Swan River, with space and safety in the cockpit a priority to look after the many novice passengers that make up the crew for these races. The twin wheel steering is a result of this requirement allowing the helmsman a clear view of passengers and crew and also taking up less cockpit space than a tiller.

Alfresco’s recent line honours win in the 280nm Fremantle to Geraldton was an eye-opener for many when the smallest boat in division one showed the way home to the 50ft fleet. Hitting speeds in excess of 28kts Alfresco was ahead of the Volvo60 race record at the three-quarter race distance, but unfortunately the breeze dropped out for the final 50 miles letting the record slip away and many of the tail enders to make gains. A second place on IRC for the race topped off the weekend and underlined the performance.

We also had a discussion on rating systems in New Zealand, and the scene is as fragmented as in most places: generally IRC for the more serious big boats, ORC Club in some races, PHRF run by Yachting NZ and general handicap as a free alternative in many clubs.

As for participation, evening races are up while weekend racing is down. Social situation has changed in the last 10+ years, and so has the priorities. Also the level is not as high as it used to be. Brett blames winning the America’s cup, since many talented sailors become pros in international projects instead of getting involved in ambitios national campaigns.

New Zealand have similar “problems” to Scandinavia. With nice cruising waters most people want to combine cruising and racing, so there are very few pure race boats. Also there are very few wealthy owners, which also affects the fleet.

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Another well known design is the 30 meter Lahana (formerly Zana/Konica Minolta) that was designed to take line honors in Sydney Hobart. It came pretty close but didn’t quite make it. She’s still fixed keel and manual power (lots of grinders). The boat was up for major modifications this year, but they you postponed due to the current economy.


Also, the 52-footer Wired still does very well in the IRC class in Auckland.

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Photo: Gilles Martin-Raget / America’s Cup

Naturally we touched on the subject of America’s Cup. Team Korea just lost Chris Draper, who’s been one of the big surprises in the series, to Prada and they are currently running on a very tight budget. It’s a tough economy, but sponsorship still look promising.

Brett got to know the Koreans when he got involved in the asian match racing events. His Foundation 36 is used for the Monsoon Cup as well as in Perth, and the newer KM36 is used for Korea Match Cup.

We really hope they get their funding. It would be so cool to see them racing the big cats. They doesn’t seem to come cheap, as the latest estimation is that the build would take 66.000 hours. Wow!